Reader Request Week 2019 #8: 13-Year-Old Me

13-year-old me. Actually, this is from my 14th birthday party, so it’s 13-year-old me + one day.

Judge Zedd asks:

One of my students asked me a question the other day: What would 13 year old you think of your life now? It really got me thinking about the unexpected path my life has taken, and some things that 13 year old me would have been heartbroken about, but adult me is more than okay with (my eyes betraying my dreams of becoming a fighter pilot, for example). I have been asking this of my close friends, and learned a lot about them in the process. So now, I pose the question to you. What would 13 year old John Scalzi think of 2019 John Scalzi’s life?

I suspect he’d be very surprised about the lack of hair.

And actually 13 years old is an interesting time to ask me about. I was 14 when I decided I was going to be a writer (thanks to an assignment for my freshman composition class where I was the only person in three sections to get an “A” for something I threw together at literally the last minute, thus setting a writing trend I have yet to break totally free of). Thirteen was basically the last age where I didn’t have a plan for what to do with my life. I had wanted to be an astronomer, but by 8th grade, which where I was at 13, it was pretty clear that math and I were not exactly getting along, so astronomy was likely not in cards, which left me a bit adrift. To be clear, I wasn’t having an existential crisis about it — I was 13 and so not exactly freaking out about what I should be doing with my life. But I still didn’t know.

When I was 13, my home life was relatively stable; I had friends and I liked school and was generally happy. All of that was relatively recent, however — things had been shaky for a while before that. Thirteen was also the year before I went to Webb, the private boarding school that materially changed the trajectory of my life. In short, 13 was a year that had me in flux with my life, and being 13, and not actually psychic, I had not a single idea that this was the case.

So, wake up 13-year-old me and escort him into a time portal where he could see what 50-year-old me was up to with his life. What would he think? As a guess:

* Probably a little surprised that he’d become a novelist, because it’s not really something that was much on his radar at that point.

* But, probably happy that he’d become a science fiction writer, because he’d been reading rather a lot of that stuff at the time. Also, he did know what the Hugo was by that point, so he would have been smug he’d picked up a few of those.

* Would be wondering how the hell he landed in Ohio, because, dude, he was a Californian all the way.

* Then would have seen a picture of Krissy and understood.

* Also I think he’d be amazed that he’d been married for twenty four years at that point, because, how to phrase this, he didn’t exactly have a whole lot of positive role models for long-term domestic felicity.

* Likewise would be impressed I’d stayed in one place for 18 years, since at 13, he’d had more homes than he’d had birthdays (and had also at that point had been briefly homeless).

* Really, stability in general would just impress the heck out of him.

* I think he’d like, and possibly be intimidated just a smidge by, his future daughter.

* He’d otherwise be pleased with the people he’d not yet gotten to know but would get to know in his life. And also pleased that some friends he did already he’d keeping his whole life long.

* And if I really wanted to blow his mind, I would let him know that he’d met and was pals with Alison Moyet, because “Only You” was already one of his favorite songs of all time.

In general — except for the hair thing, which would be, like, a real bummer for him, although I would assure him it wasn’t all that bad in practice — I think 13-year-old me would like where life would be taking him, and who he got to take along with him in that life.

And since of course we’d have to wipe his memory before we sent him back, if there was one thing I could tell him that he’d get to keep (even if he didn’t know where it had come from), it would be: Don’t worry. Be who you are. Because who you are gets you here. And here, 50-year-old me can tell you, is pretty good.

And who knows? Maybe 13-year-old was told that. And look where he and I are today. I wouldn’t change any of it.

The Big Idea: Colin MacIver

There are few words more laden with negative association than “traitor” — it’s an apparent repudiation of country and of honor. Is there ever a time when there could be more to the word than that? Author Colin MacIver muses on this subject in his Big Idea post for his novel Turncoat.

COLIN MacIVER:

Throughout history and legend, there have been traitors and turncoats. Roland had his Ganelon; Arthur his Mordred. As we move forward, motivation appears more complex, or we simply know more about the actors. Was Benedict Arnold simply a disgruntled subordinate or was he unfairly passed over and therefore returned to his primary allegiance? Approaching the present, we have the English public school graduates who gave UK national information to the Soviets for ideological reasons from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Perhaps most difficult to explain is the case of Robert Hanssen, a senior CIA officer, who for twenty years sold US classified data to the Russians. He was caught in 2002 and placed in solitary confinement. Chris Cooper played him in the 2007 movie “Breach.” It was while watching this movie that I recurred to the eighteenth century agent, code name Pickle, a man deep in the counsels of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, who failed a second attempt at rebellion in Scotland after the ’45. Those few authors who have deigned to mention Pickle have concluded that he acted from hope of gain.

My belief, my big idea, is that, while not discounting a mercenary motive, I have discovered a more honorable intent for Pickle turning his coat. He believed that a second rebellion could fail and that the subsequent punishment of clans in arms would bring a retribution so great it would amount to genocide. So he shopped his Prince and his cause.

I cannot conclusively prove this so I wrote my account of PIckle’s actions not as history but as fiction. To bring out the story of Pickle, I have an historical figure, a grandson of the great Daniel Defoe, Daniel Baker, travel to the Highlands to interview one of the last living survivors of the ’45. This format allows for a steady unwinding of the history of the second aborted rising while also allowing for comic and romantic interludes.

Pickle eventually died in an alleged “hunting accident.” For what did he sacrifice his honor and his life? Like him, I do not believe the Highlands could have withstood a second purging. On the other hand, if an invasion by Charles had succeeded in reinstating the Stuart dynasty, the slow progress of the United Kingdoms toward constitutional democracy would have been interrupted, with results we can only speculate upon.

A turncoat Pickle was. A man without honor, I don’t think so. But I leave the reader to decide. And, oh, yes, I have not given you the name of the man both Baker and I think was Pickle. If I did, you probably wouldn’t buy the book.

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Turncoat: Amazon|Barnes & Noble

Reader Request Week 2019 #7: How My Wife Can Stand Me

Wayne Kearney asks:

How does your wife stand you? Being a writer/engineer myself, I require a lot of ‘alone time’ to do my thing. My wife tends to alternate between “Why are you bothering me?” and “Why aren’t you paying attention to me?” How do you work out that balance or do you? Failure is an option.

It’s the phrasing of this question that amuses me.

Also, I just went to Krissy and said “How do you stand me?” Her reply: “With pleasure.” Awwwwww.

But it’s not a bad question. I’m an introvert who can quite happily spend days pretty much alone; Krissy is an extrovert who enjoys the company of friends and family. I am lazy and can go for long stretches not doing much of anything other than idly scrolling about on the Internet in a bathrobe; meanwhile Krissy has done eleven things before 10am and feels restless after she’s taken a break for fifteen minutes. I’m an overthinker and Krissy is very much “here, let me hack through this stupid knot.” I’m creative; Krissy is practical (neither of these is a value judgment, each is a mode). On paper, at least, there’s not a whole lot of room for compatibility.

And yet, we’ve been married for 24 years and anyone who knows me knows how much we love each other — as I frequently note, if we meet for the first time and I haven’t shown you a picture of Krissy within the first five minutes, I’m off my game. Krissy, I can state with a high level of confidence, feels similarly about me, although she’s possibly not as quick out the gate with the photos. Krissy can more than stand me; she likes me, as well as loves me. So how does that work despite our at least superficial personality differences?

Well, the answer is, as with any long-term relationship, it took work, from both of us, and still does. As an example, my ability to fall into myself and stare at a computer screen for days at a time was and still can be a point of contention; I had to (and have to) make the effort to overcome my inertia and actually get the hell up and spend time with my spouse. When I do I’m reminded how much I actually like spending time with her, which is nice. Conversely, Krissy has come to understand my introversion is a real thing — particularly after I’ve done a stretch of performative extroversion, like at a public event — and gives me space. We both try to be mindful of what the other spouse wants and needs, basically, and remind ourselves to exercise that mindfulness on a regular basis.

(It does also help that both of us have and have always had, lives beyond just the two of us. Krissy likes spending time with me, which I am heartily glad for, but also, she likes spending time with her friends, of which she has many. I also like her spending time with her friends, because I know it makes her happy to have that time, and as an aside from that it’s not like I can’t keep myself busy when she’s elsewhere.)

I am always mindful of how much I rely on Krissy as my spouse; she bluntly handles most of the day-to-day maintenance of our shared lives, which gives me the time and space to do my thing. There is compensation for this — my work has allowed us a very nice life to enjoy together — but there’s no doubt she’s doing a whole lot of heavy lifting, and that I simply could not do what I do without her doing what she does. For both practical and personal reasons, I never want her to look around and ask herself “why the hell am I doing this? And for this dude?”

So I make it my business to make sure she knows how much I value and esteem her, and how much I appreciate what she does for me and for our life together. I tell her I love her quite a lot — seriously, spend time with us and you’ll possibly get sickened by how much we say it to each other — but I also thank her for the things she does for me, and for us, on a daily basis, and make sure those thanks are more than perfunctory. Thanking her both lets her know that I appreciate what she does for me, and also reminds me of just how much of this life that I have, which I really like, is based on her and all the things she does as a matter of course.

This is not a difficult thing for me! One, because if you make a practice of something you eventually develop mental muscle memory for it, and two, because I like telling Krissy that I love, like and esteem her and appreciate everything she does to make our lives what they are. I mean, she’s great. I’m reminded of it regularly. It’s not difficult to comment on it.

Another thing I think that helps her stand me is that I’m aware I’m not inherently a perfect spouse, which comes part and parcel with not inherently being a perfect person. So I make it my practice to listen when Krissy has a complaint about me, and also (and this is not always the easy part) accepting the criticism and working to correct what’s bothering her. Krissy is not by her own natural inclination someone who complains much, so if it gets to the point where she’s stopping to comment on it, that’s a point where I need to listen (to be more specific, she’ll on the regular call out small things I’m doing that annoy her, and I’ll fix those on the fly; I’m talking larger issues here). Weird how being able to listen and accept criticism will go a long way to helping your spouse stand you, but there it is.

I’d like to note for the record that these things I do for Krissy she does for me as well — if I have a concern or complaint, she listens and works to deal with it. But I’m also aware that over time I’ve been the more difficult spouse in this regard, not because Krissy is more demanding but because I am (for lack of a better term) more self-centered than she is. It’s a known fact that I’ve required more work than she has. I appreciate that she chose to stick with the work; I think she appreciates that I do the work to be a better spouse for her. Never perfect, but hopefully always improving.

It also helps, again, that as spouses, we do like each other. Speaking for myself, she is the person I am the most comfortable with, who I can tell anything to, who I enjoy listening to, and who makes me the happiest just being in the same general area with. This is all standard stuff one is meant to say about one’s spouse, of course, but it’s true, and also, shouldn’t it be that way? Shouldn’t your spouse be the person who makes you the happiest just because they exist and you get to hang out with them all the time and by default?

If you like your spouse, not just love them but truly, genuinely like them, then it’s easy to stand them, in part because you get them and they get you, and the pathways of the work of the relationship are smoother and easier to tread. There’s less risk in calling out a spouse you like when they’re being jerk, or being neglectful, or just plain have their head up their ass on something. Krissy, I know, really does like me. So that makes it easier to stand me, and to call me out when I’m doing something that annoys her. And because I really like her, it makes it easier to be, all, like, “yeah, you right.”

Finally, I make Krissy laugh, which helps a lot.

Again: All of this is work, and a process — being a spouse isn’t just taking vows on your wedding day, it’s living those vows day-to-day and every day. Krissy can stand me because at the end of the day, I’ve done the work. And on the days I haven’t, she knows she can tell me, and I will listen. I can do the same with her. Day to day, we can stand each other because we stand with each other. That’s how that works. That’s how it should work.